Numerous studies have suggested an alteration of sympathetic nervous system functioning in sleep apnea. However, most of these studies did not control for confounding factors such as diet, obesity, hypertension and anti-hypertensive medications. We examined plasma and urinary catecholamines in 43 patients, including hypertensive and normotensive individuals with and without sleep apnea. Hypertensive patients were studied at least 3 weeks following tapering of anti-hypertensive medication. All patients consumed similar diets and were of similar age and level of obesity. Twenty-four-hour urinary norepinephrine levels were significantly higher in apneics (58.2 ng vs. 40.2 ng in nonapneics, p < 0.002). Urinary norepinephrine in apneics was increased during both day and night. Plasma norepinephrine levels were not significantly elevated in apneic patients but were elevated in hypertensive patients both during sleep and in the morning (p < 0.05).